There is no question that skilled agents offer the best opportunity to save unhappy customers who are at risk of leaving. But how do you help customers, and retain them, if you never hear from them?
Today’s tech-savvy customers prefer self-service over phone calls, and they’re more likely to seek answers to their questions within the social and digital communities where they spend their time, regardless of whether or not the business has a presence there. While companies have been expanding their service operations to include more digital channels, many are handling only basic transactions and lack the omnichannel capabilities to ensure a seamless experience for customers.
As products and services grow increasingly complex, siloed channels are adding multiple steps into a customer journey that often ends in frustration. In the past, customers demonstrated their dissatisfaction by taking their business elsewhere. Today, the impact is twofold—lost business and potential damage to the brand from the negative buzz on social media.
IoT Is Complicating Customer Support
The expanding market for connected products is creating a dilemma within support centers. While it’s common for problems to occur when connecting devices from different manufacturers, it’s often unclear to consumers where to turn for help, or for companies to know where to set boundaries when it comes to providing support for third-party products or software.
Home automation companies are already feeling the impact of customer dissatisfaction with product installation even though the market is still in its early days. A recent survey by global managed services provider iQor revealed that a high level of consumer frustration exists. The research found that consumers who purchased smart home devices dealt with an average of 2.1 companies over 2.7 sessions and with 3.1 different people as they attempted to install and engage with the new connected technology in their homes.
On average, survey participants reported having to take more than eight steps to resolve a technical problem or issue with a smart device, according to iQor COO Autumn Braswell. More than half (59%) read the instructions or user manual as the first step to solve an issue. Another 14% turned to friends or family members for help. The typical journey was: read instructions, visit manufacturer’s website, search on Google, explore other websites, call manufacturer’s customer service hotline, and return for repair or replacement.
Reaching out to the service or support center was generally near the middle or end of the process, just before giving up entirely. The study found that 22% of consumers couldn’t resolve the issue and returned the product for a refund, although 15% to 30% of the products returned had nothing wrong with them; for some products, it was as high as 65%.
iQor’s findings are particularly compelling when you consider that the survey demographics were largely comprised of tech-savvy early adopters (participants were included in the research based on the number of connected devices they already owned and used). “It was interesting to see how difficult navigating the connected ecosystem is for tech-savvy consumers,” says Braswell. “The market is quickly transitioning to mainstream adoption of this connected ecosystem. If we don’t solve for a more seamless out-of-the-box experience and deliver service, support, installation and setup in a much more powerful way, we’re going to have a lot of dissatisfied consumers in this space.”
She adds that “the crux of the matter is that companies still view their products and services as point solutions instead of thinking about the entire ecosystem that the devices live in. When I take my connected thermostat out of the box, we can’t just assume that it’s going to work well with the rest of the devices and services within my home. That is the shift in mindset that needs to happen.”
An interesting finding in the iQor survey was that nearly half of consumers (47%) used YouTube as an interim step in the resolution process, and it also ranked highest for effectiveness and convenience. Most of the YouTube videos, Braswell points out, were not produced by home automation companies, but rather were users helping users.
“Companies need to embrace that expert user crowdsourced forum to help fill the support gap, but they also have to step up and create their own content,” Braswell says. She offers a few insights that companies can take away from the research to lessen consumer pain:
- Deliver content in a way that consumers want. Develop an instructional video content strategy.
- Consider how your product instructions or user manual needs to look, or how you can offer content out of the box that provides a more visual experience.
- Keep in mind that the point at which consumers call the contact center is about midway through an eight-step journey. Consider: Does your service strategy provide an omnichannel experience that is seamless, personalized and recognizes where the customer has been, steps he or she has taken, as well as their preferred support method?
Adapt to Your Customers’ Changing Preferences
Matt Wilbanks understands what it’s like to try to retain customers who never reach out when there’s a problem. As CEO and co-founder of HelpSocial, a leading integration platform for customer care and social media, he believes that companies can not only prevent customer churn but also connect with new customer segments by adapting to the changing communication preferences of their customer base.
Digitally savvy customers spend a good amount of their time on social networking sites, so it’s natural for them to go there first for help with technical issues. “We have found that, if you can reach out quickly and offer help, it will improve customer retention as well as your company’s reputation for providing excellent customer care,” he says.
While social customer care practices the in early days of Twitter and Facebook mostly consisted of marketing teams directing complaints to other support channels, Wilbanks believes that companies can provide the same level of support on social networks as they do with live chat or email—and it’s often much faster and more convenient for consumers.
“If it’s a situation that involves personally identifiable information or sensitive information, then you would want to guide the consumer to a secure channel,” he says. “But unless the circumstance requires it, you shouldn’t force them into another channel. If they reach out to you through social media, that is their preferred channel. If you try to move them to email or to pick up the phone, you’re adding a step to the journey at a time when they’re probably not very happy with you. If possible, try to respond and resolve the issue in the same channel—wherever it is most convenient for the customer.”
Care About the Process, Not the Channel
Yoel Knoll agrees that offering a convenient service option is key. “Users today want to choose the channel in which they do business. They also want to choose the time of day. We have to give them the ability to stop and continue later and pickup where they stopped.” Knoll is VP of marketing for CallVU, which provides a mobile digital engagement platform that blends rich digital and interactive media with the voice channel.
“Companies are investing millions in e-commerce websites, applications and in digitizing their point of sales, but they’re not tying all of these channels together,” he adds. “If you start the journey on an app and then you call an agent, you want to continue the same journey, but you cannot. You have to start all over again.”
In a recent CallVU survey of U.S. bank customers, most participants reported that they typically contact their bank by phone. Respondents were asked a followup question: When you call your bank, where do you find the phone number? Seventy-three percent (73%) said that they first go to the bank’s website to look up the number, and then they place the call.
“They were already in a digital channel,” Knoll says. “They were on a website that most likely has e-commerce capabilities to allow them to complete their tasks through self-service, yet they opted out and called the contact center, which is the most expensive resource that companies have in their customer service arsenal.”
According to CallVU, there are three primary reasons why customers opt out of a digital interaction and turn to live support: (1) Out of habit; (2) because digital channels are typically passive, meaning the knowledge and applications are there, but it’s up to the customer to take action; or (3) due to the lack of an omnichannel experience. Customers know that if they can’t complete their task, they’re going to have to start over when they call, so they don’t bother.
“One of our solutions is to replace the phone number on the website with a ‘Start Call Now’ button. When the customer clicks on it, an app-like menu pops up on their phone and walks the customer through the self-service process,” Knoll explains. The Visual IVR provides an interactive digital journey that engages the customer and enhances the experience.
Knoll says that, once in the visual IVR, around 30% of callers choose to remain in the digital channel and self-serve rather than speak to an agent. But for those who opt for an agent, handle time is shorter because the information they’ve input transfers with them to the live agent.
In February, CallVU released Conversational IVR, the newest addition to its Digital Engagement Platform, which leverages artificial intelligence to allow callers to use natural language to get the service they want without having to navigate long and complicated audio service menus.